Havoc, in its Third Year Paperback – 6 Jun 2005
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'As uncompromising as a biblical text, Bennett's drama captures life in the raw - both in the dock and the chamber. A modern parable in historic guise' Independent, 24/6/05 (Independent)
'Ronan Bennett's novel is a little gem, as perfectly constructed as it is forcefully delivered... The period detail is thrillingly good' Sunday Telegraph, 10/7/05 (Sunday Telegraph)
This is a gripping novel, its narrative staggered with betrayal and intrigue and suffused with the hot threat of violence. Bennett's prose is economical, powerful, and often poetic (The Times)
No one today writes with such sombre clarity of divided loyalties and shifting political allegiances... Bennett beautifully conjures a sense of holiness... he is marvellous, too, at drawing vivid images from common life... There isn't a bogus sentence in the book (Ian Thomson, Spectator)
Bennett's evocation of a corner of England on the edge of apocalypse is wonderfully done... the novel's language is flowing yet exact, marked with a wonderful strangeness (Kathryn Hughes, Guardian)
An accomplished and ambitious work of fiction... HAVOC is Bennett's best novel to date, and deserves a significant place in the modern canon (Observer)
[Bennett] is a supremely stylish writer... His characters rise empathetic and irresistible from the pages (Sunday Herald)
[His] writing is always profoundly informed by politics and belief... conjures up a bleak and brutal world, but sets against it delicate details of human feeling and perception... [Bennett] has a great deal to tell us, and he does it with skill, beauty and human sympathy (FT Magazine)
Superb... already long-listed for the Booker, HAVOC, IN ITS THIRD YEAR has the pedigree of a novel that can, and should, go further. It is a thrillingly satisfying piece of work (Sunday Telegraph)
Both an atmospheric thriller and a consternating study of the horrors of fundamentalism... grim, compelling and ultimately bracing reading (Irish Independent)
Fact and fiction are distilled into an enticing and highly effective union... ambitious, evocative, brave (Sunday Business Post)
Marvelously told, with memorable characters, powerful dialogue and description, and subtly drawn parallels to contemporary issues (Publishers Weekly)
Searingly powerful... a fable and parable for all times - and ours in particular... sublimely written (Stevie Davies, Independent)
'Bennett is a gifted writer with relentless fascination for misery' Independent on Sunday, 12/6/05 (Independent on Sunday)
A masterful piece of storytelling... a tightly woven social history that engages until the last page (Bookseller)
Bennett... makes economical use of action to support the brooding unmasking of a soul (Irish Times)
'Ronan Bennett's most accomplished and compelling novel to date' Observer, 16/6/05 ( Observer)
'This powerful historical novel resounds with contemporary significance' Telegraph, 11/6/05 (Telegraph,)
Ronan Bennett's excellent new novel... has the force of a parable... Swap the black suits for grey ones and the characters could have walked out of Bush's America (George Monbiot, Guardian, 9/11/04)
'Both a political allegory and an independent work of art' The Times Book Review 4/6/05 (The Times Book Review)
'Powerful, atmospheric...particularly strong on evoking physical intimacy' Guardian, 16/6/05 (Guardian)
'Bennett's compelling story of an honourable man forced to choose between personal and public duty works both as historical fiction and as a subtle, oblique parable for our own times' The Sunday Times, 24/7/05 (The Sunday Times)
'This powerful historical novel resounds with contemporary significance' Telegraph, 11/6/05 (Telegraph)
'Gripping and very moving' (New Statesman)
A stunning historical novel of imaginative power and vision, which was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2004See all Product description
Top customer reviews
Set in an unnamed Northern town in a bleak winter in the early 1630s, the book describes the aftermath of the takeover of power by a coalition of upright burghers from the brutal, semi-feudal control of Lord Savile. The central character - Brigge - is a well-off and kindly farmer, who becomes coroner and a governor of the town, but becomes increasingly disillusioned as his close friend Challoner, the master of the town, falls under the sway of a Taliban-like puritan faction. Calls to build 'a shining city on a hill' herald a legalistic attitude to the law (and specifically, Biblical Mosaic law) and bring in a grim regime where harsh punishments - brandings for fornication, death for adultery, 'Sodomy' or Papism, removal of support for the poor, expulsion of beggars - rule, stoked by a continual fear of the inevitable anti-puritan backlash. In a town where impossible standards are imposed by vindictive law, where mercy is a forgotten quality, and where the original governors are now misusing this legal brutality in machiavellian manoeuvring against each other, no person can feel safe - least of all, the secretly Catholic governor, Brigge.
In Brigge, we have a Graeme Greene style character - a man whose goodness stems from his humanity, and is almost inseparable from his human flaws - contrasted with the hard-hearted self-righteous puritans whose paranoia echoes the characters of the Crucible. And like Miller's great play, this book is satirical. 'A shining city on a hill' was, after all, a favourite phrase of one recent American President, whose successors seem increasingly to sound like Bennett's 17th century puritans.
'Havoc' is a word of warning to all today, in a World where religious fundamentalism is on the rise again.
Though he attends the prescribed protestant church, Brigg is in reality a "papistical malignant," a man who walks the difficult line between the Puritanism of the Master, a lifelong friend, and his belief that "men must have mercy, for without mercy we are savages." When Brigge is suddenly called to conduct an inquest on an infant found dead in a local pub, he discovers that Katherine Shay, a Catholic deemed "prideful, brazen, and uncontrite," has been arrested for the murder.
With numerous subplots and much intrigue, the story of Katherine Shay's arrest and John Brigge's search for justice on her behalf evolves. The period comes to life on every level of society as the author shows in realistic detail the kinds of gruesome punishments meted out for "sins," the harshness of life for the homeless poor, the dependence of farmers on luck and weather, the fragility of life, the excesses of religious extremism, and the abiding power of love. Realistically presented motivations for some of the extreme behavior in the novel make the Puritan characters come alive, as John Brigge, a man who sees more than one side to each issue, becomes a protagonist for whom the reader develops much sympathy.
The elegant and formal language of the novel resembles that of the Bible. Filled with observations of the harsh natural world but revealing the humanity of the main characters, the novel has a rare historical integrity and unity, with poignant applications to the present day. Despite its forbidding subject matter, the novel is exciting--full of well-paced action and suspense. Many characters have biblical parallels, obvious in their names--Elizabeth, Deborah, Starman, and John Brigge, sometimes known as Germanus. The religious parallels are unobtrusive during the body of the novel, but the ending is overtly symbolic and didactic, its artistry and elegance subordinated to message, and its thematic balance and restraint sacrificed to an obvious, religious conclusion. (4.5 stars) Mary Whipple
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